Wednesday, May 16, 2012


A review...

BIKE magazine

In the mid 70's a bunch of hippies loaded their Schwinn paperboy bikes into the back of someone's pick-up and drove to the top of a mountain. They unloaded the heavy beasts and bombed down the gravel roads and trails of Mt.Tamalpais outside Fairfax California. Originally just one-speed cruisers, their machines slowly evolved to include multiple gears, front and rear hand brakes, and knobby tires. A new sport was born. It was not just riding a bicycle on dirt that was new; people had been doing that for near a century. It was the idea of specializing a bicycle for just this type of off-road cycling. Mountain biking was born, and a whole new culture emerged.

Ross Measures. North Vancouver, BC.

In 1980 Fat Tire Flyer came on the scene, and until 1985 was the only magazine for mountain bikers. Soon many magazines came on the scene, Mountain Bike, Dirt Rag, Mountain Bike Action, Spoke, Decline, just to name a few. And while each publication had something to offer, they each were missing something…enter Bike. Bike was different. It had more soul, and sometimes some funk too…They were the wild ones, irreverent and full of crazy (often beer induced) hi-jinks. Early issues had off-beat tests and odd comparisons, done by interns in lab coats. 

Once they threw some wheels off rooftops to test for strength. They used the same roof to throw more wheels off, but this time they had inflated tires on them, the tires bounced like super balls, and one made several bounces and made it over a nearby chain-link fence, and rolled away, never to be seen again.Then there was the time they rolled tires down a hill to see which one went furthest (and therefore was the best). Another time they tested the effectiveness of suspension by strapping a bottle of beer to the bike, riding down the trail and then opening the bottle. By comparing how much beer was left in the bottle after foam-over, they declared a winner. Well, not really. The tests were inconclusive, but they really enjoyed drinking beer and riding bikes for science.

As a ‘lifestyle magazine’ they had many helpful articles…
 Comparing Jolt vs Red Bull-Just what a growing child needs, sugar and caffeine times two.
“Hunting Season Don’ts and Do’s” (A public service announcement from your friends at BIKE)
DON’T                                                                             DO
Wear a furry brown jacket                                              Wear colors NOT found in nature
Use a white fuzzy under-the-seat bag                           Use a whistle AND a bell
Ride a camouflage bike                                                 Ride a bright colored bike

Pictorial how-to’s were popular in some other cycling publications, so BIKE would do parody versions, that looked just like the others, but with ridiculous suggestions, and bizarre props. They wanted everyone to know, they were the bad-boys of bicycle publishing…

While their humorous essays made for good reading, it was often the photos that readers went for first. BIKE re-defined what mountain biking looked like. Up to 8 pages, smack dab in the middle of every issue “BUZZ” contained some of the most awe inspiring photographs any mountain biker had ever seen. A guy ‘hucking’ off a drop in Moab, or a scenic panorama with no rider in sight, they could all speak to us. Every photograph captured what mountain biking was, the rush of a downhill, or the peacefulness of being surrounded by a forest of trees and ferns. The photographs were so popular; an issue dedicated to the year’s best photos became their best selling issue. It is now an annual year-end tradition. Other cycling magazines have followed suit and feature more prominent photos, but none do it as well as BIKE.

Conrad Spring. Fernie, BC.

Other interesting features that regularly fill the pages: “Fighting Words”. Don’t worry; it’s not as rough as it sounds. Just a point-counterpoint discussion on topics a mountainbiker would be interested in. “Is the latest technology really necessary to enjoy mountain biking?”  Of course the answer is no, but early adopters (like me) have to argue for it so we can justify buying new toys. Another issue asked “Is it O.K. to shuttle?” The modern cross-country purist in me says no, but the sport did start with pick-ups and flatbeds driving riders and bikes to the tops of mountains. “My Trail” is a half page photo with a half page interview of a rider explaining their favorite local trail. The “Splatter” includes short bits of news, trends, gossip or interviews. “Grimy Handshake” is an essay by longtime contributor (listed as ‘Random Juggernaut’ in the front information) Mike Ferrentio. He writes on anything from the flow of riding single track, to the mundane details of a European press junket. Mike writes like a regular guy, and loves riding as much as the rest of us, he speaks for the reader, not at them. “The Grind” gives details about long term product tests. Readers trust BIKE to give them an honest review of a product, and not just re-print the makers press release. “Ask Chopper” is their version of an advice column, but of course the advice is direct and not always helpful. “Endo” takes an odd or random picture and ads a humorous caption. And at the end of every issue:”Pump”. Editor-at-large Rob Story bats clean-up with a half page essay set in a full page picture that makes you want to put down the magazine and go ride.
Dear Chopper…“I have been trying to wheelie for two months now, and still nothing. Can you help?”
Response: If you aren’t able to wheelie after two months of practice, you will never learn. Sorry for the buzzkill, but its true. (he’s right, without the ‘wheelie gene’, its hopeless).

Dear Chopper..."I have a dusty race coming up, when exactly should I trim my nose hairs?"
Response: "Are you crazy ? Would you remove your cars air filter before driving Baja? you need those babies, just trim the ones that try to merge with your man-stache"

 Luisa Zea, Andrew Findlay. Guatemala.Andy Sylvester-Thorne. Pemberton, BC.

Another constant feature of BIKE has been its travel writing. EVERY issue has at least one article on riding someplace amazing. That can be in one of the 50 states, or a far, far away country you’ve never heard of. The list of places BIKE has visited and written about could fill a book, and maybe someday will. Trips to Norway (20,000 miles of singletrack!), Bolivia, and China’s Yunnan province, New Zealand, Israel, parts of Africa and even Russia are nothing new to these guys and gals. When they visit these (sometimes) developing countries, they spend as much time learning about the locals and their issues, as riding the terrain around them. The great photos make it feel a bit like National Geographic ‘Travel’ magazine. The pictures and descriptions transport the reader to that place, and the people there seem just like you. Despite the exotic locations, these road trips are not glamorous. The author is often they are sleeping in flea-bag hotels, or under the stars, but that’s what mountain bikers do. Some articles are even specific to traveling BY mountain bike, or bike-packing it’s often called.

Janne Tjärnström and Holger Meyer. San Vigilio, Italy.It’s this “we’re just like you” feel that set BIKE apart from the other bicycle magazines. Most other magazines before BIKE came off as a bit snob-ish. They had a ‘we-are-professional-journalists-and-therefore-smarter-than-you” tone. Or “we-get-paid-to-ride-bikes-you’ll-never-afford” attitude. BIKE was the everyman’s magazine, down to earth and rough around the edges. Even the photos that accompanied product reviews always showed the product post-review. The dirty, scratched or worn down part, showed the reader they really used it, and did not just take it for a spin around the parking lot. This magazine was made for mountain bikers, 'grunge' mountain bikers.

Red Bull Rampage, Utah. Bryce Kloster. Seattle, Washington.

Obviously everything has to change over time, and BIKE is no exception. A few years ago they were purchased by Grindmedia, publishers of titles like Surfer, Powder, Skateboarder, Dirt Rider, Snow Boarder and SUP (Stand Up Paddle), the magazine shifted a little more mainstream. Maybe more ads seem to fill the pages than before, but at least they are mostly ads for bike products. One bicycle publication, 'Bicycling', has ads for everything from Michelob Ultra, the new V8 Ford SHO, Tempur-pedic mattresses and the adult 'toy store' Adam and Eve.  Nothing wrong with any of those products, but if I wanted those types of ads, I'd read Maxim.  BIKE focuses on stuff mountain bikers would really use and would want to know about.  Advertisements in BIKE include: mountain bike tires, disc brakes, suspension forks, cycling shoes, sports sunglasses, and of course many different brands of mountain bikes.
Despite these changes, BIKE is still the #1 circulated mountain bike magazine in the world. It still has the best articles and full page photos.It speaks to its readers and relates to them. These days it just has a bit more content of young adults in full face helmets jumping off things that looks a little crazy to someone like me that has been mountain biking for 20 years. Despite its new younger voice, BIKE still rules because of the way it draws the reader into a world of possibilities. On your local trails, or the jungles of Borneo, adventure and the promise of beauty can be around every corner.

Photo: Sterling Lorence

Like many print medias, BIKE magazine has developed an on-line presence. The BIKE website of course, allows you to watch videos of riders in action. This is something the magazine can not do. Luckily, true to their love of photos, a "photo of the day" link gets readers their 'BUZZ' fix between printed editions. A new 'beta' version of a trail-finding search engine allows riders to type in names of cities to find new trails. And a "community"  link on BIKE takes you to a website called 'Ride Monkey', it has a mountain biking forum that has been around for years. With this on-line forum, mountain bikers can share opinions and help each other out. Smart move by BIKE, teaming up with an established community forum, rather than trying to start their own. 

One interesting point to make, the website does NOT have ANY of the articles or content that the print version has. It is not designed to replace the paper version of BIKE, only enhance it. I for one like this choice they have made. A magazine is light, requires no power, does not break when dropped, and fits easily into the smallest of carry-on. Perfect thing to take on that next mountain bike vacation.

In conclusion:

A few of my saved issues...some are from the mid 90's.

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